Tens of thousands of flood cars that have been submerged in salt water, and contaminated by bacteria and various toxins, will soon start to appear all over the country, even in states far from the center of the storm. Flood cars are inherently unsafe, and pose a serious risk to anyone who drives them, rides in them, or even just comes into contact with them.
Flood cars are basically rotting from the inside out. The electronic / computer systems, which control everything including the brakes, engine, air bags, and other major safety systems, are hopelessly compromised and will inevitably corrode and fail, over time.
Bacteria, mold, and other contaminants can cause serious or fatal health problems, particularly among children and adults with asthma and people with allergies or compromised immune systems.
Tips for consumers — how to avoid flood car scams:
- Be on the lookout for both new and used cars with tell-tale signs of having been submerged — musty smell or “over-perfumed,” silt in places like under carpeting, in the well where the spare is stored, or title histories indicating the car was in the flood area
- Check federal database of total loss carsprior to purchase (this is the official website for the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, established by the US Dept. of Justice, where insurers, self-insured entities, salvage pools (auctions), and junkyards in all 50 states MUST report all total loss vehicles, within 30 days — many report daily)
- If the vehicle is relatively new, or still within the factory warranty period, get the VIN number and call the manufacturer to ask if they will honor the warranty — if it’s a flood car, they won’t honor the warranty, even if it’s new. Insist on getting confirmation in writing that the manufacturer will honor the warranty, before you buy.
- Keep in mind that a “clean” title is not an indication the car is OK — many cars have had the titles “washed” to remove the “flood” car brand, and many states don’t even have a “flood” car designation. Plus some insurers have admitted routinely failing to properly brand titles — increasing the price the car can command at auction, by making it easier for unscrupulous sellers to hide the car’s checkered past. This is one reason NMVTIS is so valuable for consumers — total loss vehicles MUST be reported to NMVTIS, even if the titles have never been branded, or if they have been “washed.”
- Get any car inspected by a trustworthy auto technician — for example, one who gets consistently high ratings in Car Talk’s Mechanics Files — before you buy
- Test drive the car before you buy — be watchful for signs the car is hesitating, running rough, smells musty, has tell-tale signs of silt or premature rust in places where you wouldn’t expect to see rust
NEVER, EVER buy a car sight unseen, without an inspection and test drive. If you are interested in a car you found over the internet, buy locally and go check it out in person, in a safe, public place, during daylight hours. It the seller claims they are the owner, make sure they show you the work orders from the repairs they had performed, and confirm the name on the work orders matches the name on the registration and title.